The love song. The breakup song. They're two of rock n' roll's favorite pastimes and whether we're talking boomers, Gen-X, or millennials, they never go out of style. But this Valentine's Day we're skipping infatuation and heartache. Instead, we're focusing on commitment. In our youth-focused music landscape – one that's always placed a premium on love-at-first-sight or drama – the ups-and-downs of long-term relationships or marriage are not, granted, as sexy of a song topic. Imagine, for instance, the difference between "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and "I'm Still Holding Your Hand After All These Years." But if Valentine's Day is for lovers, and a big part of love is maintaining it, let us honor an aspect of romance less heralded in song lyrics: enduring loyalty.
Yo La Tengo, "Sometimes I Don't Get You"
Recall, for a moment, popular romantic fairy tales. They often end with the phrase "happily ever after," but their stories focus on the drama leading up to that point. That's because the task of living "happily ever after" often proves more of a mundane sort of challenge. Yet on this song from 2006's I Am Not Afraid of You & I Will Beat Your Ass, cherished indie veterans Yo La Tengo zero in on some of the head games that come with long-term relationships. Sometimes, Ira Kaplan sings, "I don't know how to be on my own." But things aren't dark for long. After all, Kaplan's partner, Georgia Hubley, is the band's co-leader. Fittingly, the music subscribes to a fluid pastoral nature in which falsetto vocals counter with a melancholic-yet-determined piano. The tune slows when it reaches its aw-shucks conclusion: "We'll get through the difficult stuff."
Neil Young, "Harvest Moon"
Not to be confused with the more cryptic and mysterious "Harvest," Young on "Harvest Moon" doesn't hide behind metaphors. There's a reason couples gravitate toward "Harvest Moon" as a first dance at a wedding. The song – featuring lightly uplifting acoustic guitars, subtle harmonies, and just a hint of twilight twang – strikes a tone somewhere between romance and nostalgia. Found on the 1992 album of the same name, Young's ode to a long-term relationship is the rare effort that mixes a little schmaltz with honesty. Parts of the work possess a when-we-were-younger longing. "When we were lovers, I loved you with all my heart," Young sings. But passion remains, even if the thrill, as they say, is gone. The crux of the song revolves around the declaration that Young is "still in love with" his object of affection. So, after you stop reading, go find a dance partner.
John Prine and Iris Dement, "In Spite of Ourselves"
There's no shortage of pop songs that provide a laundry list of non-specific things related to the stupendousness of a significant other (Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed" is a king of this genre). More realistic, however, is this tune from folk legend John Prine, on which he and Iris Dement chart the faults – one by detailed one – in a partner. He: She likes ketchup on her eggs. Her: He drinks beer like it's oxygen. He: She has a weird obsession with convict movies. Her: He spends the entirety of his check on payday. But on this upbeat and humorous acoustic number from the 1999 album of the same name, the duo aren't itching for a fight or looking to draw papers. It's instead the realization that someone's quirks, oddities, and annoyances are all part of what makes their favorite person unique.
Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris, "This is Us"
This collaboration between Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler and Southern Americana charmer Emmylou Harris seemed slightly unexpected when it arrived with 2006's Real Live Roardrunning. His voice is a distant baritone, hers a warm, crackling fire. Yet they blend on this slick duet, a compact midtempo rocker dedicated to the idea that opposites attract – and stick together. Knopfler's guitar licks hint at the blues but keep propelling the song forward. Through good times, bad times, and hard times, there isn't any sadness or regret to be found. The music captures the tone of flipping through an old book of pictures – a vacation to New Orleans, a look back on the honeymoon, and the remembrance of the birth of a child. "You and me and our memories," the two sing near the song's end, "this is us." Then the guitars erupt, hinting there's still plenty of life yet to come.
Animal Collective, "My Girls"
The concerns of the singled versus the coupled-up are often drastically different. Such becomes clear on Animal Collective's "My Girls," the most poppy, hook-friendly song the psychedelic ensemble ever recorded. The first single from 2009's Merriweather Post Pavilion, it captures the shifting anxieties of domesticated and married life. Here, all vocalist Avey Tare and company want is the ability to provide shelter and goods for a spouse and a child. It's a little old fashioned in sentiment, recalling a time when men were expected to be heads of the household. But it emerges as an earnest plea for safety and companionship rather than standing as any sort of grand cultural statement. Just as important, it sounds thoroughly modern, with keyboards popping like bubblegum and spacey, satellite-spinning sounds taking us into the future.